I recently attended an event filled with the top digital executives at pretty much every major media company you can think of. The companies represented on the program and in the audience likely reach 100% of the American population. That's a lot of media movers and shakers, not to mention a significant share of creative, business, and product knowledge all in one room. Significantly, though, one of the biggest takeaways wasn't about the media business. It was about the power of kindness.

Don't roll your eyes.

Kindness is something that two speakers - the head of product at Nextdoor and the well-accomplished mother of three incredibly successful women (the CEO of YouTube, an MD/professor at UC San Francisco, and the CEO of 23andMe) - believe is a critical success factor in business today.

As Tatyana Mamut, Head of Product at Nextdoor said, "kindness can be not only helpful to neighbors, it also a good  business model." As a social platform, Nextdoor could easily have fallen into the negativity trap that we see on many social networks and comment-laden shopping sites. That's because both human nature and algorithms unwittingly reward negativity. This creates a vicious cycle and fosters the kinds of hate, aggression, and anxiety that are the bane of digital environments.

Mamut says that Nextdoor observed that many platforms create "opportunities or incentives for people to be negative and create microaggressions on the platform." In an effort to ensure that Nextdoor is a place where helpful neighbors provide valuable advice, their product team has prioritized design that amplifies kindness and positivity.

To this end, they recently introduced a "kindness reminder." If you try to post something negative on Nextdoor, you get a notification that lets you know that your comment looks like other previously flagged content. It then asks that you "please remember that you're talking to your neighbors." And asks, "Would you like to change your response?"

In just three months, they've seen the overall rate for abusive comments decline by 25%. And, in this brief period, the reminder is already being triggered less frequently, which means they are actually changing members' behavior.

Despite countless developer advice to reduce friction, they've found that this has improved civility on the platform. And the most important result? Despite this added "friction," they've seen overall member engagement increase. Given that Nextdoor bills itself as "the social network for your neighborhood" that's a meaningful metric.

Another speaker, Esther Wojcicki (yes, that last name should sound familiar), applauded the way that Nextdoor has baked kindness into its business model and product design. As a teacher for nearly four decades, Wojcicki finds kindness sorely lacking in our schools. She also said it's woefully absent in our offices and online. And that is causing a negative ripple effect that is impacting not just young people's chances for success, but all of ours.

She says that the T.R.I.C.K. (if you will) is to adhere to the principles of trust, respect, independence, collaboration, and kindness. Yep, there's that word again.

Wojcicki points to the negative impact that helicopter parenting has had on young people's confidence. A lack of trust and independence coupled with no tolerance for error has resulted in an aversion to risk. Yet, risk is a critical factor in innovation. If mistakes are met with kindness and thoughtful feedback, smart risk becomes a healthy habit.

"We stigmatize mistakes and now we're running national education systems where mistakes are the worst you can make," according to Wojcicki. "Today's new hires lack confidence and initiative."

Business leaders can learn a lot from Wojcicki's parenting (and teaching) advice, which she outlines in her book How to Raise Successful People. "If you trust your team, you'll get people that actually feel good about taking risk." She says that we need to "encourage innovation with no repercussions." That isn't to say that failure shouldn't be a learning experience. She suggests providing feedback as soon as possible but emphasizes that leaders should be kind as well as honest.

She points to the leadership implosion at Away as an example of helicopter parenting colliding with the C-suite. As leaders, we must trust, foster independence, and embrace mistakes - by being honest about our own and kind and constructive about the errors of our team members.

"Couple negative feedback with care," Wojcicki advises. "Give negative feedback with kindness and in private. Don't manage through fear."

She's right to point out that, when a person feels trusted and respected, they're willing to take risks. And risk takers are innovators. Her own success, that of her daughters and her students, all point to the wisdom in this approach.

And a critical ingredient to this success? Kindness. Be kind to those in the house next door, the office down the hall, and to your digital peers. Build kindness into your business model, business culture, and management model. Not only is it likely to foster a better sense of well-being for you, your team, and your customers - it may just pay off for us all.

Published on: Jan 23, 2020
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